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Taylor Mays' Infuses Bengals With Athleticism: But Does It Improve The Secondary?

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The Cincinnati Bengals traded undisclosed draft picks to the San Francisco 49ers for safety Taylor Mays on Monday, a player that the team was high on during the pre-draft process before the 2010 NFL Draft. One report last year even suggested that the Bengals were debating whether to use their 21st overall pick on Mays; a pick that would later turn into the more wiser choice in tight end Jermaine Gresham. Mays wouldn't be available for the Bengals after the first round, eventually selected by the 49ers in the second (49th overall). Cincinnati had to settle for Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap 54th overall, who would go on to set a franchise rookie record with 9.5 quarterback sacks last year.

Yet Mays' brief time in San Francisco never took off, starting six games from week four through week 10, though reportedly often taken out by the first quarter; though he did participate during 436 defensive snaps (or 42.2 percent of the defense's plays in 2010). Mays' only playing time during San Francisco's preseason meeting against the Oakland Raiders last Saturday was reduced to the final three minutes of the game.

His brief stint in San Francisco was over, highlighted with San Francisco's email to 31 NFL teams on August 4 that he was available. Though one has to wonder if his sudden exile wasn't the result of a new coaching staff. "Although the 49ers waited until July to send the email about trading Mays, I'm assuming they were ready to move him shortly after (Jim) Harbaugh took over and (Vic) Fangio joined his defensive staff," said David Fucillo (Fooch) in an email, who runs SB Nation's San Francisco 49ers blog Niners Nation. "They coached against Mays while Harbaugh and company were at Stanford and Mays was at USC and must have had their preconceived notions about him." Fangio followed Harbaugh from Stanford.

"(Mays) has struggled with coverage and generally hasn't been able to convert his athleticism to regular NFL safety play," describes Fucillo. "Monday, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was discussing the team's safety position and said the team had five guys who could play safety in the NFL. Mays was not one of five he included." One of those reasons Fucillo points out is that Mays is more focused on "straight line speed and big hits" that makes him better suited for special teams (an area we expect he'll contribute for the Bengals this year).

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee observes several reasons why the 49ers dumped Mays, using descriptions from the respected Greg Cosell of NFL Films before the NFL draft last year, such as not playing fast, slow acceleration, inability to play the deep ball, played in slow motion and not a good wrap-up tackler. As Barrows notes, all of those issues came to bear.

"The NFL game is about lateral movement and change of direction, and he doesn't have that," says Cosell. "I thought he was a overall a big-time stiff, and I thought he was very lucky to be picked in the second round."

Wes Hanson, a contributor with Niners Nation, describes:

Those hips like battleships. Let's put aside the fact that Mays takes horrible angles and plays like he had some sort of allergy to pigskin. Let's just look at those hips. When Taylor Mays decided to change directions and pursue a runner or a ball in the air, it takes like an hour and a half.

He just does not have coverage skills. Not by any stretch of the imagination. A better safety makes a quick and smooth transition between directions, using his hips and momentum to aid in the process. Somewhere, somehow Mays did not learn this skill. I'm not saying he won't ever. I hope he does and is a successful player. I like the guy and we all know Cincinnati needs it.

The general thing to keep in mind here is that the Cincinnati Bengals were dangerously thin at safety. Rookie Robert Sands and Jeromy Miles left a lot to be desired with the second team secondary. And perhaps Mays doesn't help with the passing defense right away, but this team needed that enforcer against the run.

As to whether he gets better against the pass, let's put it in this perspective. He's only entering his second season and now defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will have a turn with the second-year player.

"Coach Zimmer was tough, concrete. Concrete wall, tough. Way a defensive coordinator is supposed to be."